Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori served from 1990-2000 and is suspected of committing innumerable human rights violations during his decade in office. These allegations have been documented by the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in its Final Report, published in 2003, and the trial against the former president marks the fulfillment of one of the TRC’s most important recommendations for preventing future human rights violations by the state.
For more information on Fujimori and his time in office, you can read the Praxis report provided below or one of these articles:
- BBC News Profile: Alberto Fujimori
- Articles from the New York Times
- Biographical information from Association Pro Human Rights (APRODEH)
Alberto Fujimori: From President to Defendant
After fair and free elections, Alberto K. Fujimori was sworn in as president of Peru on July 28, 1990. He came to office after one of Peru’s most difficult decades, since the 1980s were deeply troubled by uncontrollable inflation and a violent internal conflict between state agents and insurgent “terrorist” groups such as Sendero Luminoso (”Shining Path”) and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). As an “outsider”, Fujimori offered the electorate a hope for change. Yet, he soon demonstrated his disdain for democratic institutions and the rule of law – the factor that produced his downfall ten years later in November 2000.
On April 5, 1992, Fujimori – with the support of the Armed Forces – closed the Peruvian Congress, Judicial Branch, and Constitutional Court in what he boastingly referred to as his auto-golpe (self-coup). He was re-elected in a questionable process in 1995 and by obvious fraud in 2000, as confirmed by the Organization of American States (OAS). In fact, ironically, the latter election violated the very same Constitution that his government had drafted and approved for its own personal gain in 1993.
During the 1990s, under Fujimori’s direction, the Peruvian state became increasingly more authoritarian while claiming to be a procedural democracy. Draconian anti-terrorist laws promulgated by executive decree in 1992 created a dragnet for silencing dissents. At the same time, the paramilitary group Colina carried out some of Peru’s worst massacres, including those that occurred in the neighborhood of Barrios Altos (the extrajudicial execution of 12 people at a local party in 1991) and the University of Cantuta (the extrajudicial execution of 8 students and a professor in 1992). Both tragedies supposedly occurred because it was believed that the victims were members of the Shining Path and both cases, which rise to the level of crimes against humanity, would eventually be heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In fact, the majority of cases brought to the Inter-American System against Peru pertain to events that occurred during Fujimori’s regime. However, in the end, it would be the revelation of his regime’s overwhelming corruption that would cause his government to fall.
Downfall and Flight
In September 2000, in an unexpected turn of events, a reporter and congressman leaked one of the thousands of vladivideos – the short term for the home-made videos showing Fujimori’s right hand “spy-chief” (unofficial director of the secret intelligence agency) Vladimiro Montesinos bribing hundreds of powerful elites, including members of the press, Peruvian Congress, business community, entertainment and other influential personalities. Although Fujimori put on the appearance of calling for a man-hunt of Montesinos who had fled to Panama, the president himself soon slipped out of the country on November 13, 2000 to allegedly participate in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Brunei. Few could imagine that from there he would fax his resignation only six days after his departure. The Peruvian Congress rejected his resignation and promptly declared him “morally unfit” and dismissed him from the presidency.
Following his resignation, Fujimori settled in Japan where his parents were born before immigrating to Peru. In December 2000, the Japanese government announced that Fujimori held Japanese citizenship (which is illegal for a Peruvian president), and until now the “citizenship question” has perplexed the Peruvians as they wonder if Fujimori is even a Peruvian, or had managed to finagle a perfect guarantee of impunity. Indeed, the political interest of Japan has always played a hand in the intricacies of this case. Fujimori lived a luxurious life in Japan, marrying a baroness, and eventually running his own promotional radio show that he broadcasted weekly from there to maintain and increase his supporters in Peru.
In March 2003, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Alberto Fujimori for his alleged responsibility in extrajudicial assassinations. On July 31, 2003, the Peruvian government formally solicited his extradition from Japan based on his suspected responsibility for the assassinations in the Barrios Altos and the Cantuta cases. It based its second extradition request, in October 2004, on the $15 million dollar unemployment compensation payment which he awarded Montesinos in 2000. Facing international pressure, the Japanese government finally requested additional information from the Peruvian government in June 2005. However, the extradition proceedings encountered constant obstacles, such as a request from Japan that the thousand page extradition petition be translated, delaying further any conclusion of the matter. Furthermore, since Japan’s internal laws prohibit extradition of Japanese citizens, the “citizenship question” continued to threaten whether Fujimori would ever be brought to justice.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Shortly after Fujimori fled Peru, the Peruvian transitional government headed by Valentín Paniagua (2000-2001) formed the truth commission that worked for two years (2001-2003) to produce its nine-volume Final Report. Unlike the South African truth commission, the TRC did not operate under the presumption of an amnesty since the IACtHR annulled Fujimori’s auto-amnesty of 1995 (in the same Barrios Altos case) decrees that were erected to protect himself and those involved in his regime’s human rights violations.
In this way, the Peruvian TRC differed from other truth seeking processes where special laws have sometimes been used to gain truth at the cost of justice, such as was the case with the South African truth commission’s application of amnesty in exchange for confessions. Thus the TRC presented the Peruvian State with 42 criminal cases, a significant number of which pertain to events during Fujimori’s government, including the cases of Barrios Altos and Cantuta. In this context, key members of the paramilitary group Colina group were arrested and brought to trial, where many invoked the option of “sincere confession” to implicate both Montesinos and Fujimori, as well as top army generals, and reduce their own sentences. This evidence further served the Peruvian government in its quest to extradite the former leader and will now be crucial in the trials Fujimori currently faces.
Arrest in Chile
Against this backdrop, Fujimori’s radio emissions made clear that he was determined to return to Presidential office in Peru one day. Thus, in October 2005 he formally announced that he planned to return to Peru to run in the 2006 presidential elections. His surprise journey from Japan, via Mexico, ended in Chile on November 6, 2005. Despite the Interpol arrest warrant, he traveled uninterrupted, raising speculations as to how he had slipped by unnoticed. The following day, the Chilean Supreme Court ordered his detention in wait for the Peruvian government’s formal extradition request. This request, submitted in January 2006, presented 12 criminal charges (10 for corruption and 2 for human rights violations, including Barrios Altos, Cantuta as well Caso de los sotanos del SIE (basements of the Servicio de Inteligencia del Ejercito or Army Intelligence Service) where journalist Gustavo Gorritti and businessman Samuel Dyer were held and tortured after being kidnapped.
In May 2006, Fujimori was released with bail awaiting determination of the case. Meanwhile, members of his political party Alianza por el Futuro, or the “Fujimoristas”, won 13 congressional seats, two belonging to Fujimori’s loyal daughter, Keiko Fujimori, and his former defense attorney. Soon, the press began to reveal suspicious indications that the Fujimoristas were forming an unspoken political pact of impunity with the new administration of President Alan Garcia, who himself faces charges for grave human rights violations during his earlier presidency in the 1980s. Indeed, one of Garcia’s first political scandals was trying to hold a referendum for reenacting the death penalty for terrorists, a decision that political commentators quickly pointed out would require withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, scheduled to hear the case of the prison massacre El Fronton, in which Garcia was implicated. Watchdogs of the extradition process have kept close eye on this alliance as it subtly sought to subterfuge the extradition proceedings and could be an issue now during Fujimori’s trials.
On July 11, 2007, the Chilean High Court judge, Orlando Álvarez, rejected the extradition request, determining the judicial charges were “not considerable.” His decision ran in direct contradiction of Supreme Court prosecutor Mónica Maldonado, who had made unequivocal recommendations for the extradition. The press uncovered that Álvarez had cut and pasted text from the defense lawyer’s brief, and had used an evidence standard that did not correspond with local nor international extradition standards. The Peruvian state representatives immediately appealed.
That same month, Fujimori lost his election bid for a seat in the Japanese senate. This effort, initiated while in Chile and with Japanese supporters in Tokyo, would have assured his diplomatic immunity and impeded his extradition to Peru. After considerable delay after the hearings in August 21-23, the Chilean Supreme court presented its September 10th ruling that approved Fujimori’s extradition to Peru for seven of the 12 requested criminal charges – two for human rights and five for corruption (decision made public on September 21, 2007).
The next day (September 22) Fujimori was extradited to Peru and immediately incarcerated. He is currently in a prison specially-built for him in Lima. The Permanent Criminal Chamber of the Peruvian Supreme Court, composed of three principal judges (César San Martín, Victor Prado, and Hugo Principe) began to hear the seven criminal cases against Fujimori the first week of October 2007.
Cases against Fujimori
As mentioned, Fujimori is currently charged with two cases of human rights violations. One for assassination and grave injuries caused by the Colina group, supposedly under his orders in the Barrios Altos and Cantuta cases (which have been grouped together into one case), crimes that carry a minimum 15-year prison sentence. Secondly, he also faces charges for alleged torture and unlawful detention of journalist Gustavo Gorritti and businessman Samuel Dyer in the basement of an Army Intelligence Service building, for which he faces a minimum 15-year prison sentence. The trials for human rights violations were originally scheduled to begin on November 26, 2007 (later postponed until December 10, 2007 – International Human Rights Day).
In addition, Fujimori faces five cases involving corruption charges that include usurpation and abuse of authority, which carries a potential eight-year sentence, for the illegal search and seizure of property (videos) in his ex-spy chief, Montesinos’s home. Based on video evidence of Montesinos’
s illegal payments to six opposition members of congress, Fujimori is accused of the crime of conspiracy and corruption of State functionaries, since it is argued that he was aware of this practice. This crime carries a minimum five-year sentence. He is also accused of embezzlement, crime against public administration and conspiracy, carrying a ten-year sentence, for the illegal multi-million unemployment compensation payment to Montesinos. Fujimori faces a five-year sentence for the illegal phone tapping of his opposition (politicians, businesspeople, journalists and State functionaries). Lastly, he could be sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for the illegal purchase of a private television company with public funds.
In October 2007, Fujimori began to make his declarations in the investigative phase. According to the local press, it is presumed that the oral hearing will be brief with a possible verdict by the end of the year, although experts acknowledge that it could take longer given their experience with other human rights cases.